Posted on 06.25.2021

Profiles in Courage: Captain Bill Robinson (Ret.) - Soapbox, Jr.

Last weekend, mom and I attended an event along with Twin Pines Ranch manager, Thurman Mullins, his wife and their three daughters and another dear family friend. As with many things we have been attending lately, I wasn’t clear on what all was going on until we got there, but this was a very special evening.

It was an art show called “Vietnam 2 Soldiers 2 Artists 2 Journeys Then & Now” at the Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center in Hendersonville, TN, with paintings and drawings from two Vietnam veterans, David Wright and Chuck Creasy.

Thurman “Doc” Mullins, is also a Vietnam veteran and knew David Wright who asked dad to write a piece for the program for the event which was originally scheduled for last year and rescheduled for 2021 because of Covid. That piece was part of a two-page spread in the program acknowledging dad’s passing last year. Many kind words were said about dad and his love and support for our veterans.

But the evening was about the art, the artists and our Vietnam veterans, most of which never got a proper welcome when they returned home.

Dad recorded a song by a writer named Dan Daley which became a rallying cry for the Vietnam vets, “Still in Saigon,” which describes a vet who returned home to scorn from family members from his service and struggled with PTSD, sadly, something all too typical of those who served in “‘Nam.”

The evening kicked off in dramatic fashion as a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter landed on the front lawn at the MCCC piloted by a Vietnam vet who flew them in the war.

Then there were speakers involved with the event and songwriter extraordinaire, Steve Dean, who also lends his songwriting expertise to helping vets tell their stories through song, performed.

The highlight, however, was the main speaker, Capt. Bill Robinson, (Ret), the longest-serving POW in American history.

At the time he was captured, he was an Air Force Airman whose helicopter was shot down in 1965 and he was held by local militias and turned over to the Viet Cong. He spent almost all of his twenties in North Vietnamese POW camps, from twenty-three to the age of 30. 

Seven and a half long years.

That’s longer than John McCain, who was held for over five years, in fact, Capt. Robinson was in the prisoner welcoming committee when McCain was brought to the “Hanoi Hilton,” although they did not see each other much as they were being held in different locations most of the time.

He did tell the story of one of McCain’s cellmates who created an American flag from scraps of cloth he picked up. When it was safe, they would display the flag in the cell and salute it.

He kept it hidden from their captors in his shirt, but one day the flag was discovered in a surprise inspection. He received a blow to the head from the butt end of a rifle and was taken outside and beaten. They returned him to his cell in bad shape, but McCain and his other cellmates nursed him back to health. Eventually, when he was well enough, he raised up, smiled and said, “Time for flag number two!”

Capt. Robinson described the conditions that he and the other POWs endured, and deplorable doesn’t even come close. They were treated worse than animals. Rats, mosquitos, cockroaches were their constant companions in this new reality. The food they were given was usually rice, or often a soup made from boiled grass, or an occasional piece of pork fat that still had hair attached.

Often, they weren’t allowed to bathe for weeks at a time, and if it was cold out, they didn’t have enough blankets, and when it was hot, they were roasting, not to mention the rampant disease and the torture that also occurred.

He talked about his captors playing the words of Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, when he said that the POWs were “expendable.” It’s possible that the words were somehow meant in jest, but they still hit home with him and his fellow POWs.

He said it was obvious that they wanted them to go away, and disappear from the public’s short memory, because it was a stain on the Johnson administration, and on the nation as a whole.

When he did finally arrive back home in 1973, he and his fellow POWs received a better welcome home than those who fought and did not get captured. 

When many of them returned home, they were told to not wear their uniforms so they did not “offend anyone.”

A friend of mine told me that her father was also told not to wear his uniform in public, and to not look anyone in the eye.

The war had become so politicized that, as Capt. Robinson put it, “They couldn’t separate the war from the warriors.”

Tragically, he is correct.

I’m not saying that there weren’t atrocities, much like our law enforcement officers, the majority are good people, but there are a few bad apples that sadly become the face of all.

It was an honor to meet Capt. Richardson, and to hear his story, which unfortunately isn’t that well-known.

Thank you to all those who have served honorably, yet by way of John Kerry, or a certain actress who will remain nameless, have been portrayed as monsters. 

Thank you, Capt. Robinson. I wish dad had been here to hear your story. I know he would have done his best to tell it, so I’m stepping in for him.

God bless you, all.

If you are in the “Tennessee Midlands,” as dad used to call it, I highly recommend the exhibit at the MCCC. I believe it runs until the fall, and it benefits their Between the Lines Healing Arts Program and helps vets tell their stories through art to help with their healing, a very worthwhile cause.

Let’s all make the day count.

What do you think?

Pray for our troops, our police, the peace of Jerusalem and our nation.

God Bless America!

#BenghaziAintGoingAway #End22

—  Charlie Daniels, Jr.



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How 'bout Reparations
Amen, Amen & Amen Charlie Jr. Vietnam Vets probably got the worst treatment of returning soldiers in the history of this great nation, daily I read of places like California and Massachusetts who are paying for slavery reparations, most people in these states probably don't realize that they were always free states. Add to this Obidens USDA wants to use it's wokeness to give Black farmers 120% debt forgiveness for "broken promises". I think we broke more promises to Native Americans than any other group. My grandfather's on both side were screwed glued and tattooed by the USDA programs, we sucked it up and kept on plowing ahead. If we have money for reparations I say lets pay the people that actually l were given the short end of the stick, not some 3rd or 4th generation removed from the injustice. Therefore there could me no better place to put that money than in the hands of Vietnam Vets, starting with the homeless and the mentally ill.....There are many Still In Saigon....nuff said God Bless Capt. Bill Robinson, Plowboy
Posted by Plowboy
Vietnam Veterans
I belong to a website called "Together We Served Air Force". I'm one of the younger guys as I missed Vietnam by a few years but I have many friends on there that accept me as a Cold War veteran even though I didn't see the horror that they witnessed while serving our country in Vietnam. The " welcome home" they received in the early 70's by many Americans is despicable and is a stain on our country that many of us will never forget .... nor will allow to happen to repeat itself. I salute all fellow veterans but I have a warm place In my heart for the WWII vets, the Korean War vets, and especially the Vietnam veterans ... they were my mentors as I went through training in the late 70's. God Bless them all and I always ask God with special prayers to help heal their wounds both physically and emotionally. We owe a debt that can never be repaid for their sacrifices.
Posted by Mark
Vietnam vets
Most Vietnam vets were treated poorly by this nation and it continues still within the VA, but the Vets have gone out of their way to make sure no other returning vet gets forgotten or not welcomed home properly. Many I have met have helped guide injured veterans like me through the maze at the VA to get the care and benefits we have earned. I will always respect them and what they went through. I want to say thanks from this vet to all Vietnam veterans.
Posted by Clint